Wednesday, November 26, 2008

On Life Expectancy: How Bad Is Butter?

Answer: Not very if eaten in moderation.

As Julia Child once said "giving up butter means that in about two years you will be covered in dandruff." Julia cooked and ate well using natural, fresh ingredients and lived to a ripe old age of 91. She beat the 53 year average life span of folks born when she was in 1912 by 38 years. Maybe if we cook, eat and live like Julia Child did, we can beat the 2004 (the year she died) average life expectancy of 78 years by another 38 years and live happily and healthily well past our 100s.

The Food Guys weigh in on butter:

Julia Child mini bio:

Read more about life expectancy in the Cause of Death book

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Can Corn Kill You?

Yes. Especially in the form of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which can be found in soda pop, juice drinks, pancake syrup, fruit-flavored yogurt, ketchup and BBQ sauce, pasta sauce, canned soup, canned fruit and breakfast cereals. HFCS is a combination of glucose and fructose and the fructose part doesn’t generate insulin like other forms of sugar. That means you don’t feel full and can keep on drinking and eating until you are over weight. With the excess sugar and the weight comes diabetes which killed 75,119 people in the U.S. in 2005.

Corn was introduced to the Pilgrims by Native Americans in the 17th century and was celebrated at what we now know as the original Thanksgiving. Today, relatives of the first Americans now suffer along with Blacks and Whites from corn’s transformation in our food. Diabetes death rates vary by race from a high of 33.2 per 100,000 Black Americans to 25.9 for American Indians to 24.9 for Whites to a low 11.2 for Asian Americans.

Maybe we should have sushi for Thanksgiving this year!

All about Indians and Thanksgiving:

The corn/diabetes connection:

More on the corn/diabetes connection:

A fun corn documentary:

For more fun facts read the Cause of Death book

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Alcohol, Accidents and Holidays

Although more people tend to die in car crashes during the summer months (667 deaths over the 4th of July weekend in 2005 vs 563 over Thanksgiving that year), holidays are always a good time to be especially careful about drinking and driving. Young men age 15-24 experience the highest number of car crash deaths and, despite the fact that alcohol-related traffic crash fatalities have gone down from 60% in 1982 to 40% in 2004, alcohol continues to be a major cause.

If a car accident doesn't kill a young male drinking driver, his excessive alcohol consumption will start to take its toll in other ways within a few years time.

The American male hit hardest from alcohol-related causes is the Native American Indian. Between ages 25-44, American Indian males die from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis 10.3 times more than Asian Americans (who have the lowest death rates), experience accidental deaths 5.7 times more and commit suicide 2.1 times more.

Thanksgiving, to me, means thanks for this beautiful land we live in, which was inhabited first by our fellow Native Americans. My Thanksgiving wish is that they don't end the holidays dead.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism for traffic crash info:

CDC for deaths from select causes by month in 2005:

Cause of Death book chapters on Accidents, Suicide and Bad Plumbing for lots more

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Vampire Week Wrap-Up

With the vampire movie Twilight opening today, I thought it would be fun to do a week's worth of blogs on real life vampires.

On Monday I asked if you'd ever seen a vampire with freckles and by Tuesday I concluded that human vampires are just not nice people. Wednesday and Thursday I took a closer look at some creepy crawlies and their vampire tendencies.

So, in the end, which is the deadliest vampire in the U.S.?
Answer: The mighty mosquito (based on how many deaths they caused in 2004)

Mosquito: 92 deaths - West Nile(79), Malaria (8), Viral Encephalitis (5)
Tick: 12 deaths - Lyme disease (6), Rocky Mountain spotted fever (6)
Assassin Bug: 2 deaths - Chagas disease
Flea: 1 death - the plague
Vampire Bat: 0 or unknown (3 rabies deaths were probably due to dog bites)
Leech: 0
Lice: 0
Human/cannibal serial killer: 0 or unknown Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, November 20, 2008

How Deadly Are Assassin Bugs?

It depends on where you live.

In Venezuela, which has a population about 8% the size of the United States, the Assassin bug (also known as the kissing bug) caused 716 human deaths from Chagas disease in 2004, way more than the 41 who died there because of mosquito bites (35 from malaria, 4 from dengue fever and 2 from yellow fever). But in the U.S. that same year there were only 2 deaths from Chagas disease. The blood sucking creature that killed more North Americans was the mosquito with 92 deaths in 2004 (79 from West Nile, 8 from malaria and 5 from mosquito-borne viral encephalitis). Ticks also pose a threat killing 12 Americans from tick-caused Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Fever.

What is Chagas Disease?

What do killer mosquitoes look like?

What is Malaria?

What is Dengue Fever?

What is Yellow Fever?

What is West Nile Fever?

Want more cool bug photos?

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fleas and the Plague: The Small Vampire That Could

The plague is still with us! 137 million people died from it during the major epidemics that swept the globe in the 6th, 14th and 17th centuries. That's 10 times more than the 13 million victims of Joseph Stalin's purges of his perceived enemies in Russia in the 1930s. In the U.S. today, 1 person died of the plague in each of 2004 and 2005.

According to the Rocky Mountain National Park, the plague is prevalent in wild animals and is still spread by fleas. Unlike the earlier plagues that killed 90% of those exposed, antibiotics can now treat the disease. But untreated bubonic plague is still fatal in 50% of all cases. That old adage 'fed wildlife most often results in dead wildlife' might just pertain to you!

If you want to go hiking in Washington or Oregon state, where some other vampires were recently filming the movie Twilight, here's a good source. Just steer clear of the wildlife!

Image from the National Agricultural Biosecurity Center at Kansas State University Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Human Vampires Are Not Nice People

The inspiration for Count Dracula, in Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, was Vald "the Impaler" who ruled Romania in the 15th century. He impaled hundreds of his enemies on stakes and displayed them in the town square.

If vampires are those who feed on the blood of the living, the closest thing we have in real life today are cannibalistic killers. According to the FBI, serial killings represent less than 1% of all murders (based on total homicide deaths of 18,124 in 2005, serial killings in the U.S. would be fewer than 180. That's about 118,000 fewer than the number of Americans who died as a result of accidents that year). Cannibal serial killers are even rarer.

Some famously disturbed cannibal serial killers are:
Andrei Chickatilo: born October 1936, died February 1994. Killed 53 people in the Soviet Union between 1978 and 1990.
Jeffrey Dahmer: born May 1960, died November 1994. Killed 17 people in Ohio and Wisconsin between 1978 and 1991.
Albert Fish: born May 1870, died January 1936. Killed 5+ people in New York between 1924 and 1932.
Hadden Clark: born April 1951. Killed 2-3 people in Maryland between 1986 and 1992.

For more information on the #11 cause of premature death in the U.S., see the Murder chapter in the Cause of Death book.

photo from wikipedia

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Ever See A Vampire With Freckles?

Probably not!

Freckles are a result of exposure to the sun, which is also the best source of Vitamin D. While exposure to the sun, especially for someone fair skinned, can result in melanoma, a lethal type of skin cancer from which 7,818 people died in the U.S. in 2003, lack of Vitamin D can weaken bones causing the deaths of 13,700 older Americans age 65+ who died from falls as a result of osteoporosis that same year. Vitamin D deficiencies are also thought to be the cause of some colon, breast and prostrate cancers, especially since higher cancer rates are found at higher latitudes where there is less sun exposure.

So, if vampires weren't eternal, they would be much more likely to die as a result of their sun avoidance, than their fair freckled sun loving relatives. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, November 14, 2008

Which kills more: a spider bite or lightning strike?

Between the 2 known species of spiders with enough poison toxin to kill you in the U.S. (the brown recluse and the female black widow), there were 58 deaths from 1999 through 2005, or an average of 8 deaths per year. In the same 7 year period, there were 365 deaths resulting from lightning. Out of the 46 lightning deaths that occurred in 2004, 10 were in Florida, the state with the highest number. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Can You OD On Heavy Metal?

And I'm not talking about the music.

In a HOUSE rerun, a loving wife is slowly poisoning her husband with gold sodium thiomalate, an older arthritis treatment rarely used in the U.S., which raised the question: What are other dangerous heavy metals besides gold and how many people die from them?

The top 3 heavy metal contenders that lead to death are:

Arsenic which is found in cigarettes, along with a lot of other toxins. Cigarettes are estimated to kill 2.1 million per year in the world.

Lead (found in batteries, crayons, paint, ceramic glazes, lead crystal, balsamic vinegar, etc.) was a major component of air pollution from leaded gas in the 1970s. Air pollution has been linked to cancer, particularly breast cancer of which 41,316 people died in the US in 2005 and 548,000 died worldwide in 2007. According to a report by the World Health Organization, lead also leads to heart disease, gastrointestinal problems and anemia and was responsible for approx. 229,000 worldwide deaths in 2003 from heart disease alone.

Mercury is now found in high concentrations in fish from pollutants in water. We come into contact with Mercury from dental fillings, cosmetics, vaccines, thermometers and other medical devices. When the Chisso Corporation dumped mercury into Minamata Bay in Japan from 1932 to 1968, an estimated 1,000 deaths resulted from eating the toxic fish.

Gold is less of a threat as a heavy metal toxin. But, as a symbol of economic greed it may be responsible for more deaths and financial ruin than all the heavy metal pollutants identified above.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Shakin' All Over

If doomsday scenarios don’t get people’s attention have a party! A planned preparedness drill for Los Angeles November 13th will gather Angelenos to participate in a disaster drill built around a mock 7.8-magnitude earthquake along the San Andreas fault. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), southern California has about 10,000 earthquakes per year. The last big quake there was the magnitude 6.7 Northridge earthquake in January 1994 which killed 33, injured 9,000, and displaced over 20,000 people. Compare that to the quake Monday May 12, 2008 in Eastern Sichuan, China. That magnitude 7.9 earthquake resulted in at least 69,185 people killed, 374,171 injured and 18,467 missing and presumed dead.

Some things we cannot control, but being prepared definitely can make a difference in how many people die.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Your parents always warned you to look both ways ...

So, you’re alone, depressed, in the house with a loaded gun (16,750 deaths in the U.S. by suicide with a firearm in 2004) and you decide to go for a walk or a jog to lift your sprits, maybe with a new tune from Radiohead on your iPod and you, or the driver you share the road with, fails to pay attention.


You’re one of 5,976 pedestrians who died in 2004, most as the result of being hit by a car, truck or van.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, road runner rage is on the rise. So, look out, especially between 6-9 pm, the deadliest time to be a U.S. pedestrian!

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Slavery Still Exists

That is, slavery in the form of human trafficking.

Recent headlines have brought prostitution into the news from Craigslist cracking down on online soliciting to Elliot Spitzer escaping criminal charges for his involvement with a prostitution ring. But with an estimated 800,000 juveniles trafficked across international borders annually, and 250,000 child prostitutes in the USA, deaths from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) continue to be high:

109,000 Worldwide STDs deaths in 2004 (excluding HIV which killed another 2.0 million in the world) with 90% from syphilis; 50 USA STDs deaths in 2005 (excluding HIV which killed another 12,543 in the US) with 94% from syphilis

Top 5 Reasons for juvenile prostitution:

  1. International rings and interstate crime operations traffic young girls with promises of employment and money
  2. Parents advertise and prostitute their children over the internet
  3. Runaways and homeless kids on city streets are recruited by pimps or engage in survival sex
  4. Drug pushers force addicted teenagers to prostitute themselves
  5. Gangs may require members engage in sex for money or other services

Top Origin Countries -where juvenile prostitutes are trafficked from (in alphabetical order):
Albania, Belarus, Bulgaria, China, Lithuania, the Republic of Moldova, Nigeria, Romania, the Russian Federation, Thailand and the Ukraine

Top Destination Countries -where juvenile prostitutes are trafficked to (in alphabetical order):
Belgium, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Thailand, Turkey and the United States

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Can The Cure Be Worse Than The Condition?

Migraines are a pain, in more ways than one; but did you know you are more likely to die trying to stop the pain than from the headache itself? There were 5 deaths reported from migraines in 2001 and 2 in 2005. Compare that to the number of accidental deaths from drugs (illegal and legal—including drugs prescribed for migraines) which increased 72% from 13,024 deaths in 2001 to 22,448 in 2005. According to a recent New York Times article, the rate of death caused by prescription drugs is 3 times the rate of death caused by all illicit drugs combined.

And that’s not all!

Scientific American shares the horrific but true story of a woman seeking treatment for her migraine, who opted for an alternative method of administering an anti-nausea drug by having it injected directly into the vein in her arm instead of her butt. Unfortunately the shot missed the vein and went directly into her artery. After her hand and forearm turned black with infection; she had to have it amputated. I would say that this is one time when the cure was definitely worse that the condition.

Gangrene photo courtesy of Charlie Goldberg, M.D.
University of California, San Diego School of Medicine
San Diego VA Medical Center

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What's Black And White And Red All Over?

Answer: The 40,283 American males who died from suicide and murder in 2005. Now that the first African American has been elected President of the United States, maybe blacks can teach whites how to avoid suicide and whites can teach blacks how to cut down on murder.
Note: Death rates are per 100,000 population with 18,416,886 blacks and 117,915,508 whites (including non black Hispanics) making up 94% of the total U.S. 2005 male population Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

How Americans Use Guns

The second amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the individual right to possess and carry weapons and, according to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, citizens need guns so they "can be pointed at a burglar with one hand while the other hand dials the police." So what did Americans do with their guns in 2005?
17,002 used them to commit suicide (out of 32,637 total suicides); 12,352 used them to commit murder (out of 18,124 total homicides); 789 accidentally shot and killed themselves with them (out of a total of 117,809 accidental deaths); 143 were used by private citizens in justifiable homicides (which would include shooting a burglar in your home - out of a total of 192 justifiable homicides in 2005). Given that the FBI reported the average dollar loss per burglary offense in 2005 was $1,725 - keeping a gun in the house to protect your assets seems a little like overkill. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, November 3, 2008

Tapeworms on House

Question: Can you die from tapeworms?
Answer: Yes

In a recent TV episode re-run, Dr. House removes a 25 foot long tapeworm from the stomach of a patient with a rare hereditary disease called Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease -a disorder that affects the peripheral nerves running from outside the brain and spine. The tapeworm had been depleting the patient of B12 resulting in anemia. So how many people die from tapeworms, anyway? In the U.S., not very many. According to "heath a to z," there are several infections and disorders you can get from ingesting tapeworms. Of these, 6 people died in the U.S. from Cysticercosis in 2005 (13 in 2004) from the accidental consumption of tapeworm eggs. (for more on death from worms, see the Bugs chapter in the Cause of Death book). Tapeworm infestation can also result in vitamin B12 deficiency anemia from which there were 57 deaths in 2005 in the U.S. (47 in 2004). But B12 deficiency can also be caused by eating a strict vegetarian diet that excludes all meat, fish, dairy products, and eggs, according to the medline plus encyclopedia. (for more info on B12 anemia, see the Hormones chapter). The most likely cause of death for the patient would be her hereditary disease. In the U.S. 92 people died in 2005 from hereditary and idiopathic neuropathy (52 in 2004). For more info on this neuropsych condition see “other causes” in the Bad Wiring chapter).

For gruesome worm pictures see here:

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Face It. We Can Go Anytime. But In So Many Different Ways!

Cause of Death is a great reference tool for writers, entomologists (some insects kill a lot of people) and anyone interested in health and death-related information. After all, we will all bite the dust, check out, buy the farm and kick the bucket but where we live, our sex, race, age, genetics and habits will ensure we will exit in our own unique way.

I can see this book being useful for people creating fiction where they need somebody to die, and fast.” - Cause of Death book review 'Where To Find Ingredients For Your Next Death Scene'

Death By Numbers

A Book In the Hand